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Overseas Chinese to send home $66 billion this year
China will receive $66 billion this year in remittance inflows, according to World Bank projections.
The figure is almost three times what China received in 2005, which was $23.62 billion, based on the organization's estimates and International Monetary Fund balance of payments reported by the Chinese government.
Remittances, what immigrant workers send to their home countries, are a traditional means of financial support for family members left behind. With China being the fourth-largest source of immigrants and the most populous nation in the world, the numbers should come as no surprise. As the volume of overseas Chinese has increased, so has the flow of money returning to China.
Dilip Ratha, lead economist in immigration and remittances at the World Bank, says: "Inflows (to China) increased sharply by 24 percent in 2008, followed by a dip by 13 percent in 2009. We expect to see an increase of remittance inflows to China by 3 percent to $66 billion in 2015, largely benefiting from continued US economic recovery."
The spike in 2008 may have a connection with the tragic events of May 12, when a 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan county in Sichuan province in southwestern China. Remittance inflows to China leapt from $38.39 billion in 2007, to $47.74 billion in 2008.
Ratha, in a 2013 report for the Migration Policy Institute, writes: "Unlike other monetary flows, remittances are counter-cyclical－family members abroad are likely to be even more motivated to give in times of hardship, even if their own financial situation has deteriorated as well. In this way, remittances are a form of insurance, helping families and communities weather external shocks."
Remittance can also be used to promote human and economic development, with these inflows sometimes paving the way for later trade and investment. Money sent by Chinese immigrants overseas served as important initial capital in the early stage of development in China's coastal areas, according to a 2012 United Nations document.
Professor Yu Zhu at Fujian Normal University says that sources of foreign investment in China closely related to the distribution of overseas Chinese and non-mainland Chinese originating from it.
In a 2012 paper for the UN Conference on Trade and Development, he writes: "Apart from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines ranked as the second and third most important sources of foreign investments for Jinjiang.
"This is closely related to the fact that there were a million Taiwan people with Jinjiang origins, and that 69 percent of the nearly 1 million overseas Chinese from Jinjiang or of Jinjiang origin were living in the Philippines.
"Similarly, Indonesia ranked as the second most important source of foreign investment for Fuqing, and this is closely related to the fact that among the 268,365 overseas Chinese who were from Fuqing or of Fuqing origin in the early 1990s, 73 percent of them were living in Indonesia."
Both Jinjiang and Fuqing are in southeastern China's Fujian province, once a primary source of emigrants.
Some sources, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggest that overseas Chinese have been the biggest contributors of foreign direct investment into China.
The vast majority of the $66 billion comes from the Asia-Pacific region, which is home to the greatest number of Chinese immigrants. Chinese communities in Europe also send money back home, although the amounts appear tiny when compared to those sent from East and Southeast Asia.
In 2012, for example, Chinese in Hong Kong sent $17 billion to the mainland, representing more than one-fourth of all remittances to the country that year.
The strongest remittance flow in Europe is between Italy and China, at $1.4 billion. Chinese immigrants in Spain sent back $991 million; in Germany it was $899 million; from the UK they sent $712 million, and from France, $614 million. All figures are from 2012, from a World Bank statistical model estimating the amount of money coming from each source country to each receiving country.
There is some room for error because the numbers are estimates. Furthermore, tracking remittances worldwide is difficult because many countries do not track funds that are sent or received.
Information published in February by Eurostat, which provides statistical information to European Union institutions, says the EU shows a persistent deficit in personal remittances with the rest of the world, with outflows exceeding inflows. "In other words, the EU's 28 member states remains a continuous net contributor to recipient economies abroad."
Victor Lum, vice-president of the Beijing immigration consultancy Well Trend, says: "In traditional Chinese culture, the family is the basic unit of society. So much so that the concept of family is extended to include close friends who are often referred to as 'brothers' and 'sisters'. There is an expectation that family members who have gone abroad, especially to wealthy and developed countries, should provide support to their family back in China.
"Transferring funds to China is easier than (transferring funds) from China. Also, for many European programs, the residency requirement is minimal, so principal applicants often return to China to resume their careers while leaving their dependents and spouses behind. In such cases, the dependents would continue with their education while the remaining spouse would look after them," he says.
Amy Liu, an assistant professor at the Department of Government at the University of Texas in Austin, specializes in the study of Chinese communities in Eastern Europe. She says that earning money is no longer the sole reason for the Chinese to leave their birthplace. "They want social status. It used to be about sending money and (then) going back. The Chinese also use their earnings to pay back their credit cards or a loan shark. They also spend their money on bringing someone else over."
Hsiao-Hung Pai, who has written extensively about Chinese workers in the UK, says some Chinese borrowed money to send their kids to the UK and their kids would send money back.